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Volume 21


Issue Number 1


Quarterly newsletter published for City of Houston employees

Moving forward together

Mayor Turner thanks employees and acknowledges challenges ahead

Photos courtesy of the Mayor’s Office

Around the City . . . . . . Page 2 - 3 Day on the Job . . . . . . Page 4 - 5 Around the City . . . . . . . Page 6 - 7 Bravo Awards . . . . . . . Page 8 - 9 Houston Heritage . . . . . . . Page 10 - 11


Extra Milers . . . . . . . . . . Page 12

Everything to everybody A transformed Buffalo Bayou Park has wide appeal — from bats to biking and cuisine to kayaking. And it is drawing Houstonians back to the city’s origins. Page 6

Superior sequel The DeLuxe Theater looked like it might have been at the end of a long run. But a $5.7 million renovation created a sequel that places it at the center of a Fifth Ward renewal. Page 10

02 AROUND THE CITY Dear City Employees, Go bold or go home. That is the approach I bring to the Mayor’s Office. I knew coming in that we were going to be facing challenges. The upside of challenges is overcoming them. Over the course of my first 90 days in office, I see there is much work to be done, but I feel pretty good about where we are headed, and it is due to each of you. City departments came together to make my pothole initiative a success. Various departments are also working together to educate our residents about protecting themselves from mosquitos and the Zika virus. Likewise, our pension system, employee unions, department directors and City Council are scrubbing the budget and looking for efficiencies for the coming fiscal year. We are developing new approaches for fighting crime and restructuring the Department of Neighborhoods. Improved customer service is the goal in all of this. I know you may be worried about the things you have been reading and hearing in the media recently. Don’t get caught up in the rumors. Trust me and trust that I have your best interests at heart. My commitment is to do everything I can to minimize employee layoffs. It is my absolute last resort, but avoiding it will require everyone engaging in shared sacrifice. This is a great city. It is a dynamic city, and it is a maturing city with many needs that must be met. As I said on Inauguration Day, tomorrow will be better than today. That will be because of you. I value each and every city employee, and I’ve seen how hard you work. I am lucky to have you working by my side.We will get through this together!

- Mayor Sylvester Turner

Since taking office in January, Mayor Turner has covered quite a bit of ground – meeting with employees, filling potholes, planting trees, meeting the President of Mexico and much more.

Photos courtesy of the Mayor’s Office

Annise Parker bids farewell to city employees Dear City Employees, Sadly, our time together has come to an end. I didn’t want to leave without letting you know how lucky I feel to have had the opportunity to work side by side with you. I set five priorities for my administration: public safety, infrastructure, jobs and sustainable development, fiscal responsibility, quality of life. There is not a single problem or issue related to these five priorities that came before us that isn’t better now than it was six years ago. Whether it was holding the line on crime and spending, rebuilding our infrastructure, adding thousands of jobs, or bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to food deserts, improving city employee health and restoring our parks, we have truly done great things together. Personally, I am proudest of our work to end chronic homelessness, make Houston more sustainable, shore up water and sewer department finances, implement Rebuild Houston and make Bayou Greenways a reality. Public service is a calling. Because we work for this wonderful, amazing city, we need to bring our “A” game every day. By and large, city employees provide exemplary service day after day after day. Although this often goes unnoticed by the public, I want you to know that I recognize how hard you have worked over the last six years. I’ve tried to demonstrate appreciation for this hard work through pay raises, investment in leadership training, and by encouraging an overall positive work environment. I love this city and want it to be the best place in which to live, work and raise a family. As I hand over the reins to my successor, I am satisfied that with your help we’ve been able to do all we can to meet that goal. The city is truly in a good place for the future. Of course, the New Year and the new administration will bring new challenges. I know you will tackle them with the same dedication and support you have exhibited during my tenure. I could not have done it without you! With much appreciation for a job well done, - Mayor Annise D. Parker

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Houston Happenings Follow City Savvy’s Lucha Morales as she explores city milestones, festive events and much more on Houston Happenings, a Savvy news video series detailing the pulse of the city. Look for our Savvy monthly emails, or subscribe to our YouTube channel, HR Houston, and watch all our videos.

Scan QR code with your smartphone.



From left to right: Mike Laster, Jack Christie, David Robinson, Karla Cisneros, Larry Green, Mike Knox, Ellen Cohen, Dwight Boykins, Sylvester Turner, Chris Brown, Jerry Davis, Brenda Stardig, Robert Gallegos, Amanda Edwards, Greg Travis, Dave Martin, Michael Kubosh and Steve Le

Meet your newly elected officials T

he new year began with the inauguration of seven newly elected officials. The group is diverse: a new mayor, a familiar face in the Controller’s Office, a police officer, attorneys, an educator and a community physician who have demonstrated their dedication to serving the public. So, get better acquainted with your new controller and City Council members: Chris Brown, Controller: Before Chris Brown was elected controller in December, he served as chief deputy city controller, where he managed the day-today operations of the Controller’s Office and oversaw the executive division. Before he was appointed chief deputy city controller in 2009, Brown served as City Council chief of staff, overseeing community development initiatives and serving as a liaison to the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee. A fourth generation Houstonian, Brown is a graduate of Lee High School, Texas Christian University and the University of Houston. In addition to his professional experience, Brown serves on the board of the William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity, Asia Society of Texas Advisory Board, TexanFrench Alliance for the Arts, and Prevent Blindness of Texas. He is a past board member of Texas Christian University National Alumni and SEARCH Homeless Services. “I have been with the city for over 12 years now, so I know many of the City of Houston employees, and I deeply appreciate their commitment to their jobs and to delivering quality service to our citizens,” Brown said. “Houston is a great place to live because our city services are timely, efficient and accomplished with great respect for the citizens we all serve. I very much look forward to meeting and talking with our employees during my tenure as City Controller. Many thanks to all of them for a job well done!” Steve Le, District F: Steve Le is a physician and small -business owner who immigrated to the United States from Vietnam more than 40 years ago. After graduating from Klein Forest High School, Le attended Baylor University and Ross University School of Medicine. He

completed his residency in family medicine at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center, an affiliate of the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. Le has been an active member of the Vietnamese community in District F for many years, serving as an active board member of Tinh Luat Buddhist Temple and Wings of Innocence, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping impoverished orphans. “It is amazing that a young immigrant boy can come to this nation and live out his dream and now have the opportunity to serve his community,” Le said. Greg Travis, District G: Greg Travis is a longtime District G resident where he has practiced law for 15 years. He has lived in Houston since his graduation from the University of Texas School of Law. He holds undergraduate degrees from Westminster College in business and philosophy with a concentration in economics. He also served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force. Travis has been active in community affairs, taught business law at Houston Community College, and has been a member of the criminal justice reform group Justice for All, where he also served on the board of directors alongside Gov. Greg Abbott. Travis has served as an instructor and coach for Depelchin Children’s Center and volunteers for Chain Reaction Ministries, which provides bicycles for those who need them. “I am honored to represent the residents of District G and proud to serve the city of Houston,” Travis said. “I look forward to working alongside the valuable city employees who play a crucial role in continuing to keep Houston a great place to work and live.” Karla Cisneros, District H: A 35-year resident of Houston, Karla Cisneros has dedicated her adult life to improving public schools and her community. In addition to working as a teacher, she was appointed to the HISD Board of Education in 2000, was elected to a full four-year term in 2001, and served as board president in 2004. As a school activist in Woodland Heights, she organized numerous community efforts to make improvements at Travis Elementary School. She has been

active in the PTA, the Friends of Travis, the Woodland Heights Civic Association, Parents for Public Schools, the Greater Heights Education Project, the SPARK Board and the board of Multi-Cultural Education through Counseling in the Arts – MECA. While serving as assistant director of the city’s SPARK School Park Program, Cisneros worked with parents and community members to develop over 20 school parks throughout the city. “I am delighted to represent the citizens of District H, which includes hundreds of city employees, on City Council,” Cisneros said. “My office and staff are also available for any concerns you may see in your neighborhood, or while you are working for the city.” Mike Knox, At-Large Position 1 Mike Knox is a native Houstonian who has served as a Houston Police Department officer for more than 15 years. He was one of two officers responsible for the creation of HPD’s first divisional gang unit in 1988, and helped create and served on the original board of directors for the Texas Gang Investigators Association. Knox authored the book, “Gangsta in the House; Understanding Gang Culture,” which was published in 1995. He served his fellow officers as a board member of the Houston Police Patrolmen’s Union and chaired the HPPU Political Action Committee. In addition, he served as editor of the Sentinel, the HPPU monthly newsletter. Knox has also served his community as a board member of the Spring Branch Education Foundation and was among the original funders of the Spring Branch ISD Fund for the Future Endowment. He also helped the Spring Branch Management District develop the public safety component of its service plan and served as its director of community service for three years. Knox earned an associate degree from Houston Community College and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Houston – Downtown while working as an HPD officer. “I am honored to represent and serve all Houstonians. I look forward to working alongside city of Houston employees to make Houston a world-class city.”

Amanda Edwards, At-Large Position 4: Native Houstonian Amanda K. Edwards practices law as a municipal finance lawyer, where she solves complex issues relating to taxexempt bond financings, public-private partnerships, community development projects and nonprofit organizations. She attended Eisenhower High School in Aldine ISD and Emory University in Atlanta, where she earned a degree in political science. She worked for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in Washington, D.C., before earning her degree from Harvard Law School. In Houston she has served as president of the board of directors for Project Row Houses in the Historic Third Ward and on numerous other civic boards and committees, including Texas Lyceum, Crisis Intervention of Houston, Texas One Voice: A Health and Human Services Collaborative, and the Houston Area Urban League Young Professionals. Edwards is a graduate of the Center for Houston’s Future Business/Civic Leadership Forum, Leadership Houston, and the United Way Project Blueprint. She resides in Midtown and attends St. Monica Catholic Church in Acres Homes. “I am honored to serve all Houstonians as the City Councilmember in the AtLarge Position 4, and I am committed to helping move all of Houston forward,” Edwards said. “Houston is the city where innovation is born – where we continue to reinvent ourselves to ensure a better and brighter tomorrow. If we work together to responsibly address the fiscal issues facing us and commit to comprehensively addressing our urban core needs, Houston can be the place where the Gulf Coast and the world’s future meet.”

City Savvy is on the hunt for the City’s most fascinating jobs and the hardest working public servants for our

“Day on the Job” feature stories.

Nominate yourself or a colleague. Send your suggestions to Elise Marrion at

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04 DAY ON THE JOB Disease Detectives: Epidemiologists investigate illnesses from AIDS to Zika By Elise Rambaud Marrion


ost days are filled with routine office tasks, but at a moment’s notice, Okey Akwari could be called to find the cause of an outbreak. As a senior epidemiologist for the Houston Health Department, Akwari seeks out the source of what most of us would rather avoid. “Epidemiology always excited me because we are like disease detectives,” Akwari said. “It suits my personality. I’m inquisitive about things, and I like solving the mystery of how and where an illness started. On the science side, it’s a dynamic study of the determinants, occurrences, distribution, control and patterns of the illnesses.” From assisted-living facilities and child care centers to airports, hospitals, schools and restaurant complaints, Akwari and his fellow epidemiologists safeguard public health by investigating and monitoring illnesses caused by everything from common bacteria and parasites to high profile viruses like Zika and Ebola. Over the last 20 years, Akwari has filled various roles at the Health Department including working in childhood immunizations and then in the HIV and STD divisions, where he tracked newly diagnosed cases, delivered results, monitored health statuses and guided patients to treatment resources as needed. City Savvy spent a day on the job with Akwari on Feb. 16. The day started out, as he said most do, with phone calls, emails and catching up on paperwork. Throughout the morning, colleagues stopped by Akwari’s workspace to update him on developing cases, such as a local elementary school with more than 20 confirmed cases of pertussis, or whooping cough. This highly contagious respiratory virus is preventable by vaccine, but has been on the rise in recent years. Health authorities believe the spike in cases is partially due to vaccine failure and some parents’ failure to immunize their children. Most of Akwari’s cases are food-borne illnesses, but the Zika virus has become a hot topic of inquiry and conversation, he said.

Reports from the National Center for Biotechnology Information suggest that the Zika virus was introduced to Brazil by a French Polynesian soccer fan visiting during the 2014 World Cup. Considering that the Houston Airport System estimates Houston received 9.8 million international visitors in 2014 alone, the threat of someone bringing the virus to Houston is real, Akwari said. The city is being proactive about taking precautionary measures. The Houston Health Department is addressing different issues including: enhanced surveillance of potential cases involving travelers returning from affected areas; response to local transmission and a potential epidemic; ensuring a safe and adequate blood supply for the region; conducting rapid Zika laboratory testing. T h e S o l i d Wa s t e M a n a g e m e n t Department is currently cleaning up illegal dump sites and increasing collection of heavy trash to help reduce mosquito breeding sites. “The important thing is not to incite fear. It’s critical that people don’t o v e r r e a c t . We already know that the Zika virus is a mosquito-borne illness in the same family as the West Nile and Japanese encephalitis viruses. Whether it is a threat to health, and how to best to intervene are logical questions,” Akwari said. “Things change so quickly in epidemiology,” he said. “Just last month, the headlines were about food contamination at a national food retailer, and now we’re all talking about Zika. There is still so much we don’t know about the

City Savvy spent a day on the job with Okey Akwari, a senior epidemiologist. Often referred to as the “CSI of the Houston Health Department,” Akwari and his colleagues safeguard public health by tracking the source of potential outbreaks. Epidemiologists depend on varification of illnesses from the department lab and work closely with microbiologists like Juanita Sumpter, right.

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modes of transmission of this virus, but the Health Department is working with local and state authorities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stay ahead of any possible pandemic.” Even without the threat of a mosquitoborne outbreak, Akwari and his colleagues have more than enough locally transmitted illnesses to keep them busy. “I’m not big on seafood, but I’ll eat it if I have to. I’ve seen too much. I worked on an investigation where an immunecompromised individual had a minor wound on his leg. He ate raw oysters, which carry vibrio. It caused the wound to become further infected, and he had to have his leg amputated. My advice is to always wash your hands properly and thoroughly. Wash your fruits and vegetables, and watch expiration dates on most food items.” He shared several outbreak stories from scenarios that could happen to anyone. Once, contaminated food from a catered luncheon at a doctor’s office sickened 28 people, including nurses, doctors and staff with gastroenteritis. After a complete investigation, Akwari surmised that the food could have been contaminated by not being kept at the correct temperature during transportation. “Most of the time, people can’t remember everything they ate, so food poisoning becomes a mystery to be solved,” Akwari said. “It starts with identifying what one ate, how and where it was prepared, whether any of the food handlers were ill; where the food was purchased, the brand and distributor, and the list goes on and on. If it’s local, we solve it. When it becomes a case of something that had nationwide distribution, the Food and Drug Administration is involved.” Another time, an assisted-living facility

had an outbreak of norovirus. Food was not to blame, Akwari said. Common areas and dining rooms were closed and visitors were prohibited, but the virus continued to spread. Housekeeping staff changed shoe covers and mop heads and cleaned with chlorinebased solution for each room, but residents kept getting sick. The problem probably originated between two residents, a husband and wife who frequently played cards, passing the virus to each other and to different parts of the facility with the deck of cards. “You have to start thinking about control measures, what has worked in the past, how best to stop it from becoming a serious health issue or a nuisance in that community,” Akwari said. “Viruses are very serious among the medically fragile people in assisted-living facilities. The answers are not always immediately apparent. Sometimes you have to go back and look at the investigation. You have to be focused, patient, open-minded, and you can’t be quick to draw a conclusion or you just might miss something important.” Most important of all, Akwari said, is teamwork. Epidemiologists often work alone, but can always default to the team for insight on the investigation. “We have a lot of talented and highly educated people here. We work very well together, and we have a lot of support from our leadership,” he said. They also work in tandem with the department lab, which gives epidemiologists a roadmap to conduct their investigations. “We initiate our investigations as soon as possible, and the lab reports confirm the cases. There are thousands of serotypes of salmonella alone, and the lab tells us whether we have a match so we can determine if there is an outbreak from a single source. So, we are always so grateful for our partners in the lab,” Akwari said.



Human Trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide, and the map above shows cases of human trafficking reported in every state in the nation. Houston has earned a reputation as a hub for human trafficking, but the city is making the fight against trafficking a priority. Map courtesy of the Polaris Project

Davis leads city’s fight against human trafficking By Elise Rambaud Marrion


n television and films, human trafficking victims are frequently portrayed as foreign-born women and girls who are kidnapped, smuggled over international borders and sold into prostitution. In reality, that’s not even the half of it. Brooke Axtell paints a different picture. Growing up in Dallas, Axtell was sexually abused by her male nanny and forced to have sex with men for money while her mother was in the hospital. She was 7 years old. Axtell’s story shows that human trafficking covers a broad spectrum of victims and complex criminal enterprises. Earning the moniker of modern slavery, human trafficking victimizes men and women, boys and girls of all ages and ethnicities from the countries spanning the globe and the United States. And it’s happening here in our community, but the City of Houston is doing something about it. City leaders are working diligently to reverse Houston’s notoriety as a hub for human trafficking into a reputation as a center for solutions. In October, Axtell told her story at a city-sponsored symposium intended to raise the level of awareness, dialogue and collaboration about human trafficking in Houston. “I love seeing Houston on Top 10 lists. Most of those Top 10 lists are positive such as the best place for young professionals, the best place to start a career or the best economy. I don’t want to see Houston ever again on the Top 10 list for human trafficking in the United States,” said thenMayor Annise Parker at the symposium. Parker made human trafficking a priority by creating a task force three years ago, and establishing a special Houston Police Department Human Trafficking Unit devoted to investigating human trafficking cases two years ago. Minal Patel Davis is another weapon in the city’s arsenal against human trafficking. Davis was appointed as the first special advisor to the mayor on human trafficking in June. She previously served as the volunteer chair of the task force, now known as the Houston Area Council on Human Trafficking. Davis still manages the HAC-HT,

comprised of 40 member organizations, in addition to now being the city’s point person to establish a continuum of care for victims, make policy recommendations, bridge the city’s efforts with local and federal law enforcement, increase public awareness and engage thought leaders. “Human trafficking is an issue that requires coordination of a lot of moving pieces and the collaboration of multiple service providers,” Davis said. “Law enforcement is involved in apprehension of perpetrators and customers. The legal community is involved in prosecuting the perpetrators and helping victims navigate a variety of legal needs. They also need a wide array of health services for physical trauma, substance abuse, sexually transmitted disease screenings and therapy for issues similar to PTSD. “Service providers help coordinate this and also assist many victims access education services such as ESL and GED classes,” Davis said. “Service providers also tirelessly work to find housing for adult victims, and many young victims need to be placed in emergency shelters designed for youth, placed in foster care and in some instances reunited with their family. Taking a systemized approach supported by the right technology will make everyone’s job a little easier.” And Davis is charged with fitting all of those

puzzle pieces together while achieving a delicate balance of raising public awareness without revealing too much about the city’s plans. City Savvy spent a day shadowing Davis in November. Rushing between meetings with key players and community speaking engagements, Davis met with representatives from the United Way’s 211 hotline to discuss training opportunities and create an updated directory of local organizations and individuals working against human trafficking. She also met with representatives for Council Member Michael Kubosh’s office and HPD Captain Harlan Harris to discuss revisions to a local ordinance about illicit massage parlors, that was later approved by City Council. “Everybody wants to look at law enforcement to fix it,” said Harris, captain of the vice division, which houses the human trafficking unit. “We can increase prostitution arrests and push both the prostitutes and purchasers through the criminal justice system, but that’s reactive. I’m more interested in outcome, not output. I want more success stories, not just numbers. Working together with Minal helps us work more strategically to get to the root of the problem and helps the victims get off the streets and put perpetrators away for good.” Minal Patel Davis, left, collaborates with Harlan Harris, captain of the HPD vice division, to create strategies for fighting human trafficking in Houston.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING FACTS: The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons to be used for forced labor or sexual exploitation. In general, human trafficking is divided into sexual trafficking and labor trafficking. Traffickers use violence, threats, deception, debt bondage, confiscation of identification, renaming victims and other manipulative tactics to force people to engage in commercial sex or to provide labor or services against their will. Human trafficking cases have been reported in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, but exact numbers in the United States, in Texas and Houston are difficult to define due to overlapping data and different reporting methods. Sexual trafficking victims range from homeless and runaway youth, previous victims of domestic violence, women working as escorts, in brothels, illicit massage establishments, strip clubs, truck stops, cantina workers and sometimes children sold for sex by their families. Labor trafficking is often involved in the supply chain production of products we use every day. You’ll find labor trafficking victims forced to work in restaurants, hotels, agriculture, the garment industry, factories and as nannies and elder caretakers. The term trafficking can create the misconception that all trafficking involves movement of individuals. In fact, many victims of trafficking often never leave their home. Human trafficking differs from human smuggling, in which persons willingly pay to be smuggled across international borders. To request help or report suspected human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Or text HELP to: BeFree (233733). Source: Polaris Project National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

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Photos by Elise Marrion

Transformed Buffalo Bayou Park beckons Houstonians outdoors By Elise Rambaud Marrion


he Allen brothers founded Houston when they discovered the green, leafy banks of Buffalo Bayou. Nearly 180 years later, Houstonians are rediscovering the very origins of their city, thanks to a massive Buffalo Bayou Park makeover. Then-Mayor Annise Parker said Buffalo Bayou has always been one of her favorite places in Houston, but she was quick to admit that her opinion wasn’t always shared by the majority of Houstonians. “Buffalo Bayou was messy, weedy and difficult to navigate, but it gave a sense of what was possible. If you see this stretch of Buffalo Bayou from a canoe or a kayak, there are places you can forget you are in the middle of the city, and that is absolutely priceless,” Parker said at the Buffalo Bayou Park grand opening on Oct. 3. The waterway was once known as the “reeking regatta,” but the 160-acre Buffalo Bayou Park has been transformed into a destination that beckons Houstonians to

enjoy the outdoors. The park features kayaking and canoeing, hike and bike trails and tranquil water features. There’s a dog park, skate park, nature play and picnic pavilion. The Waugh Bridge bat colony offers an evening spectacle, and an outdoor performance space hosts concerts and productions. And park users can also access a visitor’s center, grab a bite and enjoy public art by local and world-famous artists — all set against views of the city’s skyline. “This park is absolutely phenomenal,” District C Councilwoman Ellen Cohen said at the grand opening. “People are running, and people are meditating. There are cyclists and skaters, stroller pushers and dog walkers. It’s everything to everybody. Many cities are proud of their brick and mortar, and we are proud of our brick and mortar, but great cities are proud of their green spaces.”

Stretching from Shepherd Drive to Sabine Street between Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive, Buffalo Bayou Park is a city park, but the recent renovations are the result of a publicprivate partnership between the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Buffalo Bayou Partnership, the Harris County Flood District, and private donors — most notably, Houston philanthropists Rich and Nancy Kinder, who donated $30 million. Buffalo Bayou Partnership also raised $23.5 million from more than 850 individual donors.

“This has always been a city park, but the Kinder Foundation, Buffalo Bayou Partnership and Harris County Flood Control coming together gave us this beautiful park we see today,” said Parks Director Joe Turner. “It took approximately $60 million to make this happen. The exciting part for me, and anyone who visits this park, is that we have a $2 million maintenance budget that won’t go away. So that means the way you see it today is the way it will be maintained. Buffalo Bayou Partnership is doing the maintenance, and we are extremely pleased to be partnered with them.”

Beckheads Caption Contest

Julius Guidry

Jerrel Geisler

Anna Luckenbach


“Wait - he’s about to take the bait. Tell Cousin Sharky to bring the net. We’re having tourist tonight!”


Public Works & Engineering cost too much to try to fix potholes.”

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Public Works & Engineering

Public Works & Engineering all your money so I can go pay for this organic banana.”



Highlights of the park makeover include: Construction of The Water Works, an elevated lawn and outdoor performance space serving as an entry point for the park off Sabine Street. The facility’s name is a nod to its subterranean neighbor, the Buffalo Bayou Park Cistern, a partially buried, abandoned underground drinking water reservoir built in 1927. The Cistern is currently being developed into an art display space.



The Wortham Insurance Visitor’s Center and Terrace is adjacent to the Water Works and offers restrooms and a bike rental facility. The Barbara Fish Daniel Nature Play Area and Picnic Pavilion was designed to inspire children to learn and love nature.The park features a boulder rock scramble, a rolling lawn, a stream and waterfall, climbing logs and stones, and a 33-foot slide — all with easy access to parking, restrooms, and the play area’s picnic pavilion for special events and birthday parties. Two canoe and kayak launches easily accessed from the Sabine Street bridge and city lot H. Recent improvements to Eleanor Tinsley Park include the Bud Light Amphitheater, a sand volleyball court, the open-air Nau Family Pavilion, and a trail providing a direct connection to Sabine Promenade.



Restoration of natural landscapes, including trees and native grasses. New and upgraded trails that will bring walkers and hikers in closer contact with nature and the bayou, plus separate, wider trails for cyclists. Two pedestrian bridges, one near Jackson Hill Street and the other at the Houston Police Officers Memorial. Blue lunar cycle lighting along the major Sandy Reed Memorial Trail. The light will transition from white to blue to white as the moon waxes and wanes.



Addition of a semicircular grove of trees with lighting, gardens and benches in front of the “Dandelion,” Gus S. Wortham Memorial Fountain.

Buffalo Bayou locations: 1. Eleanor Tinsley Park

Lost Lake on Allen Parkway near Dunlavy, which is the site of a former pond that was lost in the 1970s when a dam across a natural ravine broke. The pond was restored and creates a tranquil space with reflecting pond, waterfalls, benching, dining tables and launch for paddle-craft rentals. On the banks of Lost Lake is The Dunlavy, a private event venue, and The Kitchen at Dunlavy, a grab-n-go eatery open for breakfast and lunch daily. About 80 new parking spaces are now available near the entrance of Lost Lake.

2. Barbara Fish Daniel Nature Play Area and Picnic Pavillion 3. Eleanor Tinsley Park 4. Wortham Foundation Grove 5. Lost Lake 6. Johnny Steele Dog Park 7. Dedicated trails for cyclists and pedestrians


Every month, City Savvy invites employees to put their wits to the test and to a popular vote. Check out the caption contest at to submit your captions or vote for the caption that tickles your funny bone.

Drew Brown

Yadira Gonzalez

Anna Luckenbach





Red Bull does not give you wings!!! NOW GO TO WORK!!”

Houston Airport System

just knew you two were up to something when you both unfriended me on Facebook!

Public Works & Engineering those exploding hoverboards!”

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08 BRAVO SPOTLIGHT SERIES BY LUCHA MORALES Sheila Blake ignites passion for green solutions in Houston


or the past five years, interest in tiny homes has grown in Houston. “Everybody called me to find out how small you could build a house,” said Sheila Blake, retired assistant director of building code enforcement for the city’s Public Works and Engineering Department. Blake, who oversaw the adoption, amendment and interpretation of the city’s construction codes worked to promote sustainable, low-impact building techniques during her 20-year career with the city. “Green building is definitely one of my passions,” she said. When Blake was not working to promote green building,

she implemented programs that guided residents through the city’s permitting process. “I created an ombudsman program to help people navigate the process and system,” Blake said. And Blake’s continued passion for green solutions led to the creation of the city’s Green Building Resource Center in PW&E, which educates residents about going green. “It’s a wonderful showcase of public outreach to teach the public, schools and children to participate in green events all over the city,” Blake said of the center’s interactive displays and mission to promote sustainable building and energy conservation. Blake’s outstanding service along with her efforts to educate and empower the community earned her a 2015 BRAVO Award at the May 12 ceremony. The

awards recognize employees for their volunteerism in the community and service that goes above and beyond. “Her contribution to the common good through her environmental efforts has been phenomenal,” said Steve Stelzer, program manager for the green resource center. “She did everything in her power to improve the state of the environment and the quality of service to the residents.” Hired as the city’s first female building inspector, Blake soon began to blaze a path of service. In 2007, she found herself conducting research on energy grants and projects for the Mayor’s Office. “We created a brand new process to make it easier to get solar panels on a house,” said Blake, who first learned about green building at a national conference. “I got inspired and came back and got involved locally in some community organizations,” she said.

In 2010, Blake traveled to the Amazon rainforest to visit with the Achuar people, an indigenous community who helped form the Pachamama Alliance. A global outreach program, Pachamama encourages the world to learn about sustainable living and practices. “I wanted to see what their lifestyle was like,” she said. Inspired by her journey and experience, Blake formed the Pachamama Alliance Houston Chapter. “We do a symposium called Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream,” said Blake of the online program that focuses on exploring humanity’s current challenges. A n d B l a k e ’s a d v o c a c y f o r t h e environment is ongoing. “I plan to start a business related to green building and energy efficiency,” she said.

Maria Bolanos inspires volunteerism in city


h e n Maria Bolanos met Sunnyside resident E.J. Hume, she sensed something was wrong. “When I visited with him, we would always meet outside his house,” said Bolanos, a senior community liaison for the Department of Neighborhoods.“That got some of the inspectors’ attention.” Bolanos, who originally responded to a complaint Hume filed about his neighbors, got a report that Hume’s detached garage was falling apart. “A tree had fallen, crushing that back wall of Hume’s house leaving him exposed to the elements,” said Bolanos of the damage Hume’s home endured during Hurricane Ike. The 2008 hurricane brought widespread destruction to Houston neighborhoods and to more than 75 counties in Texas.

“We started connecting him with services,” said Bolanos, who also volunteers with the American Red Cross as a translator during disasters. “The house was in such bad shape it was unsalvageable.” Through Bolanos’s diligence and with help from city services, a new home was built for Hume. Bolanos’s compassion for residents and her volunteerism within the Magnolia community are why she was chosen as a 2015 BRAVO Award recipient. “Maria’s helpful attitude and dedication to the community she serves make her an excellent choice for the Bravo award,” said Rhonda Sauter, a senior community liaison for DON. “She always goes above and beyond to help her community even if it requires using her own time,” said Sauter, who’s worked with Bolanos for the past 12 years. And Bolanos’s dedication to her community is also evident in the day-today work she does. “My priority is to resolve community concerns,” Bolanos said of her job scope

within the Mayor’s Citizens’ Assistance Office, where she connects with residents from 13 Houston zip codes and helps resolve their issues. Bolanos, who has worked for the city for 27 years, helps breathe life into community civic clubs and neighborhoods. “At the super neighborhood meetings, I’m there to support any kind of need they have in their meetings,” she said. “They might have a question, if they want to report something, or if they ask me to bring information about something they have reported previously.” “We connect the civic associations with speakers, department directors, the Houston Police Department and city inspectors,” Bolanos said. Bolanos’s passion for service also extends to underserved children in the Magnolia community. “We celebrated our 19th year of having Dia del Nino,” said Bolanos of the Magnolia community event that provides vision, hearing, speech, and autism screenings for children from 16 months to 19 years.

“We collaborate with agencies out of the Magnolia Multi-Service Center to provide this huge event,” she said. In addition, Bolanos helps organize an annual toy drive for local children. “I partner with different nonprofits to have a Christmas posada at the Magnolia Multi-Service Center,” she said. “We invite 24 elementary kids from various local HISD schools in the East End.” Bolanos believes in giving residents a voice and the resources to stay informed. “I volunteer to register people to vote and have served as the Harris County chair for Precinct 221 with the Harris County Democratic Party for the past year and a half,” Bolanos said. “I make sure that people vote in any election.” Her dedication to help residents stems from a passion to ensure Houstonians get involved with their communities. “It’s good to get involved so they can be informed,” she said.

Sam Buser saves lives, serves community


rom rescuing people from house fires and floodwaters to helping car accident victims, Houston firefighters preserve lives. But when tragedy strikes and lives are lost, it’s Sam Buser who helps city firefighters cope. “I provide counseling services,” said Buser, staff psychologist for the Houston Fire Department. “Whether they’re dealing with the aftermath of a major fire or incident, a death in the line of duty or in their own family, a divorce, or any kind of problem, they come see me.” A n d w h e n B u s e r ’s n o t h e l p i n g firefighters, he’s volunteering his services to his church parishioners.

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“I grew up in a family where there were significant problems,” said Buser of how he became interested in mental health. “I wanted to understand those problems.” Buser’s superior service to firefighters, plus the care he provides to his community are why he received a 2015 BRAVO Award. Along with his day-to-day duties as a staff psychologist for HFD, Buser is the clinical director of HFD’s critical incident stress management team. “I provide oversight, direction, guidance and leadership training for firefighters who are trained to respond to our own members who are in a crisis situation,” Buser said. Comprised of 60 volunteer firefighters, the CISM team helps firefighters who experience a tragedy in the field, Buser said. “Oftentimes when an officer realizes it’s a bad situation and is worried about his crew, he will contact the CISM team. “You can imagine after a fatality, it can be

very distressing. “Even with his heavy work load, his work ethic embodies our slogan: Courage, Commitment and Compassion,” said Rodney C. West, interim fire chief. Since joining the city three years ago, Buser has helped revive the city’s suicide prevention program, which became dormant after Dr. Stephen Pierrel, the city’s first staff psychologist, died in 2008. “When they had the previous suicide prevention program, the suicide rate dropped to zero for four years, ” Buser said. Now, he hopes that reviving the program can save more lives. “It’s a huge need,” said Buser. “In the last 10 years, the HFD community has experienced 30 suicides among active and retired firefighters and immediate firefighter family members.” Since June 2015, more than 3,500 firefighters have received the suicide prevention training developed by Buser and HFD staff psychologist Dr. Jana Tran.

Buser has also worked to create a graduate psychology student program within HFD. “I could see a potential to train students,” said Buser of the University of Houston and University of Texas at Austin graduate students who want to learn about first responders’ psychology and provide psychological care to firefighters. And to ensure people in the community have access to his services, he volunteers at Ecclesia Church in downtown Houston. Two to three times a year, Buser offers classes on depression, and once a week, he counsels individuals and families. Buser believes anyone can help those in need. “Start with what you’re good at,” he said. “If you’re an accountant, do some accounting for someone.”



Autism advocate Tina Carkhuff sparks awareness in community and schools


i n a Carkhuff is tenacious, especially when it came to finding a medical diagnosis for her son Evan. “He couldn’t hear, he had vision problems, he couldn’t eat, he had difficulty swallowing, and he had muscle problems,” said Carkhuff, interim director of the city’s Information Technology Department. “By the time he was about 2 ½, he wasn’t walking, he wasn’t talking and he was very nonresponsive.” After two years of testing and no diagnosis, Carkhuff packed up her family and moved from Pennsylvania to Houston, a city known for its advanced medical community.

“We found Dr. Richard E. Fry at Memorial Hermann,” said Carkhuff. “He was the first physician that was able to look at Evan collectively as a whole.” Carkhuff finally had the diagnosis she sought. “He has what’s called cerebral folate deficiency, which means that his brain has an inability to process certain proteins, and in particular folate,” she said of Evan, who was also diagnosed with autism and suffers from seizures. “If you can’t process those things in your brain, it doesn’t develop normally.” Determined to help others, Carkhuff began reaching out to families with autistic children. She divides her time between overseeing IT’s direction and technological development, caring for Evan and connecting autistic children and their families with resources and services. Carkhuff’s work to raise awareness

about autism and cerebral folate deficiency along with her excellent service on the job earned her a 2015 BRAVO Award, the highest recognition given to city employees for their volunteerism and superior service. “Tina’s dedication to bringing autism awareness and assistance to others in the City of Houston and the surrounding communities makes her a BRAVO employee,” said Nathan Haack, assistant director of the city’s IT enterprise network systems. But for Carkhuff, it’s always been about the kids. “I want to help as many of these kiddos and their families as I can so they can stay strong,” she said. In 2011, Carkhuff partnered with Fry to found the Cerebral Folate Deficiency Research organization, a nonprofit that funds research and raises awareness of cerebral folate deficiency as it relates to autism spectrum disorders. “Dr. Fry and I wanted to work with other

families to help them avoid going through what we had gone through and this kind of hodgepodge of tests and physicians,” said Carkhuff, who serves as the organization’s executive director. Since 2011, Carkhuff has helped to connect hundreds of families with resources, as well as helping to raise $50,000 in funds for the 2015 Houston Astros Autism Awareness event. Along with helping families, Carkhuff has held training sessions for Memorial Hermann nurses who might care for autistic children and helped to initiate medication policy changes for special needs children in the Humble Independent School District. “Just start doing it,” she said. “Whether it’s autism or something else, you just start developing a network that has the same common interest.”

Lester Whiteing is driven by serving others


n initial steering committee member for the city’s 311 call center, Lester Whiteing Jr. has played a major role in helping residents during his 16 years with the city. “We came up with the colors, the theme and purpose, and why it was important to make it user friendly for our citizens,” said Whiteing, a community involvement coordinator with the Housing and Community Development Department. But Whiteing’s passion for helping extends beyond his job with the city. Raised in Houston’s northwest Carverdale community, he understands the needs of its residents. “I helped with voting, with the Juneteenth parade, and keeping them abreast of different meetings and programs going on,” said Whiteing.

“I’ve always had this inner drive to reach out and touch people,” he said. “To make a difference in their lives.” Whiteing’s passion to a make a difference and his superior service on the job earned him a 2015 BRAVO Award. “Lester takes great pride in working for the city and being a Houstonian,” said Jocklynn M. Keville, a public information officer for HCCD. “Lester’s face lights up when he talks about Houston’s historic neighborhoods and the programs and projects the city has implemented to help revitalize them.” Whiteing has a knack for helping residents rebuild their communities and lives, Keville said. “After Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, I served on a committee that helped organize donations, “Whiteing said. “In 2008, after Hurricane Ike, I was Housing’s representative on a task force to provide services.” Despite the demands of his job, Whiteing volunteers at Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church. For more than 15 years,

he has served as the church historian, the usher board director and a deacon. “We meet once a month for training and instruction, observation, fire drills, emergency procedures and signals,” said Whitening. The usher board oversees 35 ushers ages 7 to 18. “We have discipline that must be maintained, order, structure, and all that ties into life skills,” he said. “We also discuss how they’re doing in school.” As a deacon for the church, Whiteing helps guide church members. “We’re responsible for providing service to the membership, providing Holy Communion and spiritual guidance.” “It makes me a better person,” Whiteing said. “I get self-fulfilled by working in the church and community.” Whiteing’s drive to help others has not gone unnoticed. His work within the Carverdale community earned him a We the People Award from the Carverdale Community Civic Club. And his work to honor ministers and civic leaders earned him the

Community Star award from St. James Missionary Baptist Church and the Latter Day Prayer Band Ministry Church. Most recently, Whiteing earned a Silver Spoon Award from former City Councilwoman Melissa Noriega. “It’s an award that she presents to city employees for going over and beyond for their work and their service,” Whiteing said. But for Whiteing, it’s not about winning awards, it’s about helping those in need. “I challenge all Houstonians and city employees to search within their hearts and find an organization, be it their church, social service, or community civic association and give time back,” Whitening said.

Three additional BRAVO Award winners were featured in a previous issue of City Savvy. Read all nine employee profiles at

For Lisa Kimball, service and camaraderie come first


or Lisa Kimball, breaking bread with her brother firefighters was important during her rookie years as an engineer operator at Fire Station 3. “That’s how you learn who they are,” said Kimball, now a fire marshal inspector for District 1 of the Houston Fire Department.“You learn about their families and about their kids.” That closeness prompted Kimball to open up her home and care for her brother firefighter Miguel Campos after he had brain surgery to remove a tumor in November 2014. “Somebody needed to step up,” she said. Kimball’s devoted care of Campos and the valiant service she provides to

Houstonians every day on and off the job earned her a BRAVO Award. A hearing loss in his left ear sent Campos to a doctor. “They did an MRI and discovered I had a tumor in the left lobe of my brain,” said Campos, a fire marshal inspector for HFD’s high rise team. “I was very concerned,” Campos said. “I didn’t know if it was cancer.” Referred to a neurosurgeon, Campos was told his tumor was benign, but he needed surgery. “The tumor was pushing on my brain and that’s why I was having hearing problems,” he said. But with no immediate family in the U.S., Campos had no one to help him during recovery. “My family wasn’t able to come,” said Campos of his family who lives in Venezuela. And that’s when Kimball offered help. “He’s my brother and we went through

inspector training together,” Kimball said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do.” “She took care of me and took me to the hospital,” Campos said. “She has a heart so big I can’t even describe it.” Over the next four weeks, Kimball prepared his meals and coordinated efforts for fellow inspectors to check on Campos during their lunch hours and days off. “I was with him at night and on the weekends and whenever I was home,” Kimball said. “She handled the situation so well,” Campos said. “It’s in her personality to take care of things and people.” Within one month, Campos was released to return to work. “I was blessed,” Campos said. “She showed me what brotherhood is all about. I am indebted to her forever.” Although Campos lost hearing in his left ear, he has a positive outlook on life. “I’m adjusting to having a regular life,” he said. “I’m doing well.”

“You’re put in situations everyday where you have to rely on the guy behind you,” said Kimball of the camaraderie firefighters develop with each other. “You put your lives in each other’s hands and that entails a lot of trust. “We all bond,” she said. “We become a family.” And passing that bond on to the community is a priority for Kimball, who also volunteers as a mentor for HFD’s Camp Casey, an annual weekend camp held in the spring and fall that encourages Houston’s high school youth to consider a career in firefighting. “There’s a lot of young people that need someone to talk to and support them,” she said. Kimball is always looking for a way to make things better and help people, Campos said. “We’re all we got when it comes down to it,” Kimball said.

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Photos by David Smith

DeLuxe again: $5.7 million project restores historic theater By David Smith


here there would normally be midmorning traffic, more than 100 people milled around in the 3300 block of Lyons Avenue admiring the gleaming facade of the old theater. This area once was a heartbeat of Houston’s Fifth Ward. After years of seeming stagnation and transition, it pulses with activity once again. Businesses are opening. Traffic is picking up. And at the center of it all is a fresh monument to the possibility of civic renewal: the DeLuxe Theater. The DeLuxe opened in 1941, and for decades was more than just a movie house. It was an essential and popular neighborhood gathering place, an entertainment venue, a social hub where friends and neighbors collected, and where a kid stole his first kiss. The theater then went into decline and nearly collapsed in on itself from neglect and disuse. The Dec. 14 ribbon-cutting made it official: the DeLuxe is back in a big way. Instead of allowing the decaying building to be demolished, neighborhood supporters who saw the old building with historical perspective and understood its importance and place within the fabric of the community would not stand for its demolition. A coalition of partners formed, and a mix of grant and public funds gave rise

to a reconstruction/resurrection project. More than $5.5 million went into it. What came out was a Fifth Ward jewel, a LEED-certified facility that retained historical features of the old structure but resulted in a new space for a re-energized neighborhood. Instead of focusing on movies, the DeLuxe now features a state-ofthe-art performance auditorium. The adjoining 3,000-square-foot community hall for special events and programs will host educational programming and performances, arts programs, events and workshops sponsored by two of the major partners in the redevelopment project, Texas Southern University and the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation. Alvin Colquitt said he understands the significance of the project. He is Fifth Ward through and through, and remembers growing up in the area when Lyons Avenue popped with energy. “Growing up here in the Fifth Ward, we had the opportunity to see all the stars: Bobby Blue Bland, B.B. King, Little Richard (across the street at the old Club Matinee, no

DELUXE FACTS Total building square feet — 11,500 Performing arts theater — 8,500 square feet Seating capacity — 125 Two full chorus rooms Box office and concessions Community Hall for artistic and special events — 3,000 square feet

ABOUT THE DELUXE THEATER The DeLuxe Theater 3303 Lyons Ave. Houston, Texas 77020 Council District B

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Texas Southern University will conduct educational programming and performances beginning in the spring of 2016. Community arts programming, events and workshops will be coordinated by the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation.

longer there),” he said. The DeLuxe’s importance was magnified in the era of segregation. “We had the DeLuxe when we didn’t have anything else,” Colquitt said. “We used to get in for a quarter. Yeah, this was the spot. “This is the third time the DeLuxe has had a renaissance. It’s great to see community involvement. We wouldn’t miss (the new opening) for anything,” he said. With the TSU Jazz Combo swinging before and after the ceremony, residents and civic leaders crowded the space in front of the theater to celebrate. Then-Mayor Annise Parker praised the accomplishment

as a major step in renewing the neighborhood just a stone’s throw from downtown. U.S. Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, HCDD Director Neal Rackleff, and District B City Councilman Jerry Davis also spoke of the enormous impact. But the Rev. Harvey Clemons Jr., of Pleasant Hill Ministries and chairman of Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) 18, has a long personal history with the DeLuxe. In a way, Clemons has come full circle with it: as a youth he saw it in its vibrant heyday, admitting to getting his first kiss there, then witnessed its decline, and finally as founder of the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Center and chairman of TIRZ 18 witnessed its resurrection. Clemons said he hopes the theater will draw diverse crowds to its multifaceted programming. It’s off to a good start.

Alvin Colquitt greets an old friend at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the DeLuxe Theater in the Fifth Ward.

THE COST Total project cost — $5.7 million Performing arts theater cost — $5.49 million HCDD — $5.24 million in Community Development Block Grant funds Fifth Ward TIRZ — $250,000 Community Hall cost — $216,203


Fifth Ward TIRZ — $146,203

City of Houston (funding)

Council District B — $70,000

City of Houston Housing and Community Development Department (funding) City of Houston General Services Department (project management) Fifth Ward Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ) Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation



Operation Photo Rescue brings flood-damaged memories to life Photos by Elise Marrion

By Elise Rambaud Marrion


argie Hayes eyed the distorted, discolored, crumbling and peeling photos. The fragile storm-damaged images, spotted with age and mold, captured the milestones and faces of departed family members. These photos could have been lost forever, if not for Hayes and the nonprofit organization, Operation Photo Rescue. They will bring these memories back to life. Hayes, who lives in El Dorado, Kansas, travels to cities struck by natural disasters. Over the Labor Day weekend, Operation Photo Rescue set up shop at the Morris Frank Express Library to offer free photo restoration services to victims of the Memorial Day floods. Houston Public Library provides assistance to Houston’s residents every day and, even in times of natural disasters, said Marjorie Gonzalez, Library communications administrative manager. HPL was happy to provide space at Morris Frank for Operation Photo Rescue to help Houstonians preserve images of the past, she said. Bellaire resident Felicia Lewin walked into the library Sept. 5 clutching a plastic storage bin of photos. Three months after the flood, her home was still torn down to the studs, Lewis said. Severe allergies and asthma prevented her and her children from returning to their home. “I’m a big picture person, and our photo albums were one of the first things I grabbed before we had to leave our house,”

Lewin said. “I wasn’t able to save my bridal portrait, some of my kids’ photos and some old black and white ones from my school days. “I was so excited when I heard about Operation Photo Rescue because it really means so much to my family and me to recover some of the pictures I thought were gone for good,” said Lewin, who learned about the event from a Facebook page devoted to the flood. Emotional stories like Lewin’s are common in every city the organization visits, said Hayes, whose group depends on donations for travel, accommodations and space to work. Before stopping in Houston, the group visited the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, for the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, she said. “Even 10 years after the storm, we still had a crowd of people. Just from that copy run, we got over 1,000 photos to restore,” Hayes said. “Some of the people we meet only have a handful of photos left, and many of the photos are of deceased family members or are family heirlooms. You have people who break down and cry. Some people have not seen the photo since before the natural disaster.” Gabriella Nissen, a Houston fashion photographer and creative director at

Local Houston Magazine, was among the volunteers at the Morris Frank Express Library. Nissen heard about the organization on National Public Radio and contacted Hayes to come to Houston. “There are different ways of losing things,” she said. “You can lose something through a flood, you can lose family through death. And if you do, the pictures really mean so much, and they really are a comfort. I know how I would feel if I lost pictures of my mother or my family, and I wanted to be able to help Houstonians who did.” Jay Culp, another local photographer, has been volunteering with Operation Photo Rescue since Hurricane Ike. “I’ve restored about 25 or 30 photos through the organization,” Culp said. “One of my favorite ones was a document from the Daughters of the American Revolution. It took letter-by-letter focus for a couple days. “I’m proud to say that I am one of the 2,500 volunteers around the country who do this to help people and expect nothing in return,” Culp said. “The photos are an emotional connection for me. The ones that really get you are when you get thank-you emails from people. It touches you in a way that you didn’t expect.”

Volunteers from Operation Photo Rescue offered photo and document restoration services to Houstonians after the Memorial Day flood. Above, Felicia Lewin consults Margie Hayes about her damaged photos.

Operation Photo Rescue:


Kansas-based Operation Photo Rescue visits a city affected by fire, flood or other natural disasters. They typically offer their services in public facilities such as libraries. Community members can bring up to 25 damaged photos. On-site volunteers take a digital photo of the damaged photo. The owner never parts with the original photo. Images of the damaged photos are uploaded onto a photo sharing site called PhotoShelter. Volunteers select a file of photos from the photo sharing site and restore them. Professional prints of the restored photos are mailed back to the owner at no cost. The process takes about six months – depending on the number of photos and difficulty of restoration. To make a donation, visit

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PWE crew delivers service with a smile, rain or shine A Houston resident, Lou Ann N., wrote a letter to Mayor Sylvester Turner to give kudos to three Public Works and Engineering employees, Marcus Kennedy,

City Savvy is published quarterly by the city of Houston Human Resources Department.

The Team

HATS OFF Plan Houston earns American Planning Association Award The Texas chapter of the American Planning Association awarded its 2015 Comprehensive Planning Award to Plan Houston, the city’s first general plan. At its core, Plan Houston is a framework for sound planning and policy making. It provides consensus on broad principles that can guide city efforts. It includes vision and goals for the entire community, generated by Houstonians themselves. Plan Houston creates a strategic framework for a more effective organization and enables a path to a thriving, more successful Houston. As part of the plan’s implementation, the Planning and Development Department


611 Walker, 4A Houston, Texas 77002 832-393-6160

will begin facilitating a process to develop the fiscal year 2017 annual work plan. The annual work plan is a list of policy and planning projects for all departments of the city to pursue in upcoming fiscal years. City earns two “Best and Brightest” HR awards The National Association of Business Resources named the City of Houston as one of the 2015 “Best and Brightest Companies to Work For in the Nation,” and one of the 2015 “Best and Brightest Wellness Companies in the Nation.” Candidates were assessed by an independent research firm that reviewed a number of key measures relative to other nationally recognized winners including compensation, benefits and employee solutions; employee enrichment, engagement and retention; employee education and development; recruitment, selection and orientation; employee achievement and recognition; communication and shared vision; diversity and inclusion; work-life balance; community initiatives; and strategic company performance. For the wellness award, company entries were examined statistically for quantitative data and examined on a point system based upon criteria to benchmark and improve wellness program effectiveness. They included outcomes, analysis and tracking, participation and incentives, benefits and programs, leadership, employee input, culture and environment.



Resident raves about customer service from PWE employees After resolving a water main break in the Highland Village Shopping Center, Houston resident Brian T. wrote to Mayor Sylvester Turner to compliment three Public Works and Engineering employees, Bernice Dickson, Patrece Lee

Officer Jaime Escobar helps domestic violence victims Houston Police Officer Jaime Escobar, assigned to the Eastside Patrol Division, went the extra mile to help a family in need. A Metro bus driver found a woman with her two young children on the benches of a bus stop in southeast Houston. The woman, who was also a victim of a domestic violence incident in McAllen, arrived in Houston in December seeking medical care for her two children, who suffer from birth defects. She had no money, no place to stay and was attempting to go back to McAllen but could not pay for a bus ticket. Escobar, along with his family, paid for the family to stay two nights at a local motel from his own pocket, and provided food and clothing to the woman and her children. “I feel very proud that I was able to provide at least some type of help to this family, not just take people to jail,” Escobar said.

Donald Thomas and Minh To, for their thorough and prompt water leak repair. “There was one day I came home to a big hole near the water meter, your staff were working; it was raining. I approached your worker, who was covered from the waist down in mud and soaked to-the-bone. He answered my questions about the leak issue, explaining the problem and that they were almost finished with the repair,” Lou Ann said. “I thanked the fellow and told him I was sorry he had to work in the pouring rain; he smiled and quite sincerely said, ‘It’s OK...this is my job.’ He seemed pretty proud of it. “I appreciate the city’s prompt response to this problem and really appreciate that the sidewalk across the street was put back together, and both mine and the neighbor’s lawns were re-sodded where the digging took place. Keep up the good work – and thanks!”

By Paul Beckman

Sharon Ewing thanks ARA staff for going extra mile on transportation accessibility Sharon Ewing, a vocational rehabilitation teacher, volunteered to work with the Houston Transportation Accessibility Task Force. Ewing wrote to commend the City of Houston for improving transportation accessibility, and thanked Administration and Regulatory Affairs staff for going the extra mile for her. After a lengthy task force meeting, Ewing found herself without a means of transportation home, but ARA staff helped arrange a ride home for Ewing and her guide dog. “The humanity and kindness shown by the city’s representatives was surprising and an unexpected gift,” Ewing said. “As far as my experience on the committee, I was treated with respect and my suggestions were given consideration just as anyone else’s. I am a blind woman, a professional vocational teacher who currently has a Seeing Eye Dog and has had guide dogs for the past 13 years. We have had our share of situations where we were refused transport because of my dog, and we have learned to move forward and to advocate for ourselves and others. This committee with its aims and goals was our opportunity and we are grateful to have been a part of it. Thank you, City of Houston, for this much-appreciated opportunity. And, a special thanks to The Department of Administration and Regulatory Affairs, who showed me the warm and human side of city government,” she said.

and Gregory Trahan, for their customer service, dedication and incredible work ethic. “Bernice Dickson, Patrece Lee and Gregory Trahan are examples of the very best in the Public Works Department serving the citizens of our great city. Their ingenuity and highly effective communication skills literally were above and beyond the scope of their duties. Several thousand tenants and customers were affected by these water line breaks,” Brian said.


Marina Mendoza’s quick action aids choking colleague Administrative Supervisor Marina Mendoza’s training to help choking victims made a big difference at lunch in December. Mendoza and now-retired HR Supervisor Christine Gallegos were at lunch when Gallegos realized she had food lodged in her throat. It was painful and caused breathing problems. Seeing that Gallegos was gasping to breath, Mendoza quickly went to her friend’s aid and began performing the Heimlich maneuver. “I want to give kudos to Marina Mendoza for saving my life at lunch today,” a grateful Gallegos wrote. “She effectively gave me the Heimlich maneuver because I was choking and could not take a breath. She was confident that she could do it, and indeed I was able to have the small piece of tortilla chip dislodged from my throat and was able to take a breath. I am forever grateful to her for her assistance and confidence without fear to take action.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Publications Manager Leslie Denton-Roach

Interim Human Resources Director Jane Cheeks

Managing Editor Elise Rambaud Marrion

Deputy Directors Ramiro Cano Robert Thomas Deputy Assistant Directors Teri Germany-Haddad Amin Smith Charles Smith

Reporters Elise Rambaud Marrion Lucha Morales David Smith Designer Heidi Bane

Got story ideas? Email Elise Marrion at or call 832-393-6132

City Savvy Issue 1 - 2016  

City of Houston Employee News

City Savvy Issue 1 - 2016  

City of Houston Employee News